It seems like every month or so there’s another news story out there touting the benefits—or highlighting the risks—of drinking coffee or tea. If you’re not sure whether you should reach for another cup or scale back your habit, read on. We connected with Jennifer Bollig, a registered dietitian at Banner Estrella Medical Center, to learn more about how these popular beverages can affect your health.
What are the health benefits of drinking coffee?
It’s the caffeine in coffee that gives it mixed reviews in terms of health benefits. That’s because our livers all metabolize caffeine differently, and how quickly we process it is part of our genetic makeup.
“If you quickly clear caffeine from your system, coffee boosts energy and heightens mental focus, which is why caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world,” Bollig said.
In addition to improved mental and physical performance, coffee consumption has been linked to a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and cancers of the prostate, liver, breast, endometrium, mouth and throat.
“While dark chocolate and tea have been in the spotlight for their antioxidant content, coffee contains an abundance of antioxidants that surpasses them both,” Bollig said. Antioxidants can help protect against cancer and inflammation. The antioxidants in coffee may help decrease the risk of advanced prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
What are the health risks of drinking coffee?
There may be a few downsides to drinking coffee. “Research shows that about half of the population is born with the ‘slow caffeine metabolism’ gene, which means you may feel jittery and wired for several hours after caffeine intake,” Bollig said. For people in this group, coffee may increase the risk of high blood pressure, digestive problems, poor sleep quality and heart attack. Additionally, women are at higher risk for PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms such as bloating, headaches and changes in mood, as well as miscarriage if drinking coffee before or during early pregnancy.
Drinking coffee can also increase cortisol levels. Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” increases blood sugar levels and inflammation and disrupts metabolism. But if you drink coffee regularly, you’re probably less affected by the spike in cortisol.
You may also be concerned about pesticides in coffee, but residue is likely low. That’s because the coffee plant’s structure provides some protection. The outside of the plant receives the brunt of the pesticides, while the bean inside isn’t exposed as much. And most remaining pesticide residues are destroyed during the roasting process.
What are the health benefits of drinking tea?
Drinking green tea or black tea can help improve your heart health. Tea reduces the risk of high blood pressure and helps your blood vessels function well. It is also linked with a lower risk of developing various cancers, Parkinson’s disease and kidney stones, and it can improve bone health in women.
Black tea is a better choice than green tea for heart health. Black tea reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. “When compared to non-tea drinkers, black tea drinkers had a decreased risk of heart attacks,” Bollig said.
Green tea has been shown to increase calorie burn, but there isn’t enough evidence to suggest drinking it will lead to weight loss.
What are the health risks of drinking tea?
Bollig shared a few potential downsides to drinking tea:
- The naturally occurring tannins found in tea can inhibit the absorption of iron. If you are at risk for iron deficiency, it’s better to drink tea between meals instead of during meals.
- To get the health benefits from tea, you need to drink at least three to four cups daily, which can seem like a chore.
- Prepackaged tea bags are more prone to the oxidation process, so their nutrients may break down, and they may not offer the same health benefits as loose tea leaves.
What’s the better choice, coffee or tea?
“Neither is particularly harmful, and both offer an abundance of potential health benefits. Like most things in life, it comes down to portion control and individual preference,” Bollig said. If you aren’t sensitive to caffeine, both are considered healthy. Just be sure to skip or minimize the high-calorie, high-sugar creamers and sweeteners.
And if drinking either coffee or tea leaves you feel jittery or unfocused, consider choosing a non-caffeinated beverage and upping your water intake instead.
The bottom line
For many people, drinking coffee and tea can bring benefits from improved focus to better heart health to reduced cancer risk. Just be careful of the added sugar and calories from creamers and sweeteners. To learn more about the ways your beverage choices can influence your health, talk with a Banner health care provider.